Dr Rachel Fenton, Senior Manager, Alvarez & Marsal, reporting on the ROAP 2020 Session of 1 December 2020: "Expert Careers – Questions (many), Answers (some), and Food for Thought", published on 15 March 2021
As part of the first edition of the Remote Oral Advocacy Programme (ROAP) cross-examination training course organised by Delos, a number of aspiring expert witnesses were able to hone their skills at giving evidence. These expert witnesses along with the faculty members from sponsoring firms Alvarez & Marsal and PwC got together to explore the question: how do you develop a career as a damages expert witness?
From the wide-ranging discussions with faculty members Ian Clemmence (PwC), Andrew Flower (Alvarez & Marsal), Sirshar Qureshi (PwC) and Luke Steadman (Alvarez & Marsal), some key themes emerged:
1. Mentoring is important. As they were developing their careers, a number of the faculty in attendance were actively supported, and mentored, by senior members of their firms. Mentors provided the best support when they provided access to their networks and actively opened up opportunities for people to take on their first case as an expert witness – known to be the most challenging hurdle to overcome. The faculty all mentioned that actively supporting developing team members was something they were keen to do.
2. Suitability for the role. The faculty emphasised the importance of their personality in making them suitable for a career as an expert witness. But determining what personality traits were important varied between each of the experts:
(a) Andrew described how his love of travel and exploring different cultures meant that he felt right at home when he started in the global world of arbitration.
(b) Ian felt his enjoyment of hearings and buzz from the challenge of giving evidence itself made him suitable for the role.
(c) Luke highlighted how an expert’s choice of words matter and explained how this added to the appeal of the job for him.
(d) Sirshar stressed how working in a developed disputes market and then a move to a less developed market allowed him to leverage his experience fully.
3. Take opportunities when they arise. All the faculty had an example of how their career had progressed due to unplanned events – i.e. lucky breaks. While each example was clearly not replicable, the discussion brought out the importance of aspiring expert witnesses backing themselves and making decisions about their career that work for their personal situations.
Breaking into the expert witness world
A broader open discussion acknowledged the increasing size of the market in damages expert witnesses and the challenges and benefits this provides. There was an acknowledgement that expert quality and experience had improved. This transition means that parties and counsel can be more selective and obtain experts with the right experience for the case. However, this means that it becomes even harder to get that first case as an expert.
To overcome these barriers aspiring experts should seek out programmes such as ROAP which helps aspiring experts demonstrate their skills in front of an audience of potential future clients.
The faculty also discussed how this requirement for experience provides a challenge when it comes to increasing the diversity of the expert talent pool. A clearly identified issue in arbitration general, the lack of diversity is also apparent in the expert witness community. It was agreed that supportive mentors and advocates were essential to overcoming this.
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I think we all know that there is no single career path, even in our small community, but having the opportunity to hear people’s different experiences and perspectives certainly helps me personally. I hope that others also had the same positive experience from our discussion.